Cyprus Rivals to Talk Reunification as Tensions Pull Them Apart

Rival leaders from the island of Cyprus meet on Tuesday to see if there’s any common ground on which to pursue reunification after nearly 50 years of bitter division and a recent deterioration in ties.

Officials from Turkey, Greece and the U.K. -- guarantor powers under the agreement that ended British colonial rule in Cyprus -- will join top Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot politicians in Geneva for a scheduled three days of talks. The attempt to keep unity efforts alive is being chaired by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, whose spokesman called on the parties to show “creativity.”

On Saturday a few thousand people marched simultaneously on both sides of the island’s divide with banners in Greek, Turkish and English in favor of reunification and chanting: “Pull down the wall of shame - unite the place.”

Proponents of reunifying the island point to the economic and security prizes it offers. They include a boost for the development and export of eastern Mediterranean oil and gas to Turkey and Europe via a pipeline from Cyprus; and strengthening the NATO alliance in the region just as Russia seeks to expand its influence.

But unilateral Turkish energy exploration in contested waters has inflamed its ties with both Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, while Ankara’s purchase of missile technology from Moscow soured relations with European powers.

Cyprus Rivals to Talk Reunification as Tensions Pull Them Apart

When it comes to addressing the rupture that has dominated Cypriot affairs since 1974, the main protagonists are drifting further apart.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar argue that a two-state solution is the only option that merits a discussion. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades reject such a formula and support the UN framework for a “bizonal federation.”

Cyprus Rivals to Talk Reunification as Tensions Pull Them Apart

“The new Turkish-Cypriot policy that will be revealed in Geneva, along with Turkey, is based on the sovereign equality of two states living side by side,” Tatar said Sunday ahead of meeting with Erdogan in Ankara on Monday. “That is the the only realistic way for a solution.”

Former Cyprus Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis said the positions of the two sides “are unbridgeable.” Guterres should defend UN Security Council resolutions backing the federation concept, she said, otherwise “we will be left with the status quo and the inevitability of partition, which will be disastrous for Cyprus.”

The Mediterranean island -- less than half the size of New Jersey -- has been divided since Turkish forces captured its northern third in 1974, following an attempted coup inspired by the military junta then ruling in Athens that sought to unite the island with Greece.

To this day, the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state is recognized only by Turkey, while the Republic of Cyprus is a European Union member and officially has sovereignty over the entire island. Numerous UN-led efforts to reunify the island have failed, most recently in 2017.

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